By Jamal Juma
The Israeli regime unleashes racist brutality that by far outstands the crimes of the previous apartheid regime in South Africa. It imprisons an entire people behind ghetto walls, kills them and submits them to an economic blockade that has brought communities to the verge of starvation. Yet, while exactly 30 years ago the UN General Assembly called for comprehensive sanctions against apartheid in South Africa, Palestinians are reminded on a daily basis that the Zionist Occupation can still count on the blindness of the world to its atrocities and crimes. Until when?
In Beit Hanoun, Palestinian women have set another symbol of our resistance. And while Palestinians acknowledge their sacrifice, the rest of the world seems oblivious to the latest crimes in Gaza despite video cameras capturing the siege. In the hellish prison the Strip has been turned into – even more since “disengagement” took place – and after days of large-scale murder and destruction, sixty men had taken refuge in a mosque. The women gathered to save the lives of their fathers, brothers, sons and comrades and marched towards the mosque as Occupation Forces threatened to demolish it over the men. They continued marching as the Occupation opened fire, murdering two and leaving dozens injured. They prevented an even bigger massacre as the men escaped the siege of the mosque. However, the Occupation has taken the lives of at least 60 people in just the last week.
Similarly, in the West Bank farmers are putting their lives at stake, confronting the occupants at the gates that seal Palestinians in and in the fields isolated by the Apartheid Wall. The annual harvest of olives forms a major source of income for agricultural communities and workers and they continue to be steadfast to their lands.
Only two weeks ago, Palestinians from across the West Bank and isolated parts of Jerusalem challenged their ghettoization by climbing over the Apartheid Wall in order to enter the city. Ladders and broken streetlights were deployed as people overcame the 8-metre high cement walls to break the siege and isolation of the Palestinian capital.
In the meanwhile Palestinian political elites are paralyzed by the arrests, choking sanctions and the never-ending internal disputes. Ten months after the January elections, no effective political leadership has emerged. Today Mahmoud Abbas has de facto usurped the government while Hamas unable to untie their hands, keep watching and defending power over a structure which they had never before granted legitimacy. Hamas clearly has no cards to overcome the impasse. However after 7 months of sanctions and a prolonged strike of the public sector one key feature has emerged: Palestinians are able to cope without the Oslo apparatus that gives salaries to 160,000 families. Ironically, it is now when no major Palestinian political force opposes the Palestinian National Authority that it has proven itself to be superfluous for Palestinians, politically and economically.
We can continue the charade of “governments” imposed by the Occupation and the international community, whether they are “presidential” or “national unity” governments. We can surrender even the right to democracy and self-determination of the structures and leadership of our struggle to Apartheid Israel and its allies and continue to cheer Bantu kings approved by them to administer inside the ghetto walls. Or we can see the redundancy of such structures and move to a transition period that would elapse between a possible end to the PNA and the moment Israel is forced to take up again its responsibilities of the administration of all the land it occupies.
The Week against the Apartheid Wall (9th – 16th of November) – that mobilizes this year for the fourth time people in Palestine and in 25 countries from across the world – reminds us about the people on the ground that are continuing the struggle, about men and women that have no other choice but to continue their resistance through existence. It is time for them to take the lead.
Exactly 30 years ago, on November 9th, 1976 the UN General Assembly proclaimed “that any collaboration with the racist regime of South Africa constitutes a hostile act against the oppressed people of South Africa and a contemptuous defiance of the United Nations and the international community” and passed a package of comprehensive sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Today, Palestinians die in scores, the ghetto walls encircle communities and international law is violated daily by a regime whose means and aims go far beyond apartheid in South Africa. The creation of Israel brought about the world’s largest refugee population which today are still prevented from returning to their homes. Life for Palestinians within the Israeli regime includes house demolitions and calls for transfer via the Occupation ministers of “strategic threats” – or in other words the racist demographic engineering necessary to ensure Jewish numerical majority. The West Bank Bantustans turn into hermetically sealed ghettos while missiles rain down upon Gaza.
Yet, the international community maintains its silence.
No call for sanctions or even an end to preferential agreements comes from the UN. Even the decision of the International Court of Justice to dismantle the Wall and not to render any aid or assistance to the situation created by it is ridiculed by global powers and the international community at large. Instead of clear pressure on Israel to stop and dismantle the Wall, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan prides himself by claiming to set up a “register” to list the damages. Palestinians are supposed to be grateful that yet another UN office is staffed in Vienna with an “independent” board accountable uniquely to the Secretary General who himself behaves as any puppet of the US administration.
Yes, Palestinians do want those who have stolen their land and lives to pay a price for it. Yet, without a clear commitment from the UN to ensure the Wall is stopped and torn down, the register is too little, too late. Palestine and its people are not for sale. Compensation before the Wall falls is not an option.
Further, the register as it is proposed grossly belittles the damages of the Wall, completely neglecting the wider socio-political effects. The Wall is not only about dunums of land and numbers of house demolitions or even the cutting of access to educational or health facilities. The Wall means the ghettoization of an entire population, the destruction of an economy, a society, communities and lives. However, even the sort of “humanitarian accounting” proposed in the relaxed confines of Viennese diplomacy is not done with the necessary decency or with at least a clear outcome in sight. Quantification, and thus potential damage restitution after the fall of the wall, is carefully avoided.
Also shunned is any consultation or involvement of the affected population in the process. Our voices have not been heard and even in the future the only task we have is to fill in forms to satisfy UN bureaucracy. This is the same machinery that runs the registers of the Palestinian refugees for almost 60 years and is happy to continue doing so for the 60 years to come.
As Palestinians we know that we need to document the crimes and destruction made against us but we have learned as well that it is not the UN that we can rely upon. We are thus calling for a national register based upon a collective effort of Palestinian and international civil society and grassroots organizations; a true effort to document and to denounce the devastation the Zionist project of colonization, apartheid and expulsion brought via the Apartheid Wall. A register that is managed by the Palestinian people going hand in hand with the genuine struggle to tear down the Wall with an end to apartheid, racism and occupation in Palestine.
We believe that the tables will turn. The first signs that the people and civil society organizations – not just from Palestine, but also across the world – are waking up to the realities are clear. Collaboration and complicity with the Occupation is targeted by popular actions and measures. Trade unions, churches and various social and political groups and organizations are joining efforts to isolate apartheid Israel. Not a day passes that somebody somewhere in the world takes action. This movement needs to be cultivated, strengthened and grow.
-Jamal Juma’ is the coordinator of the Palestinian grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign – www.stopthewall.org.